In the course of my job, I meet with a lot of lawyers who are starting law practices. Often as solo practitioners, sometimes in pairs, and once in a while as groups peeling off from larger firms.
When we talk about what the new firm will do, what market it will serve, how it will differ from the prior firm, our conversation often steers to business plans. I ascribe to the notion that the chief benefit of business plan (especially for a business as strategically straightforward as a small law firm) is in the thinking and articulating the answers to the questions most commonly included in business plans.
As a predictor of the challenges and successes a new firm is likely to actually encounter, most business plans probably fall a bit short of the mark. But in forcing the attorney to consider challenges, opportunities, defining market segments, etc, they still are a valuable tool.
When I encounter lawyers who have business plans ready by the time we meet, they (the plans, not the lawyers) tend to be very detailed. These lawyers often have a background in business, maybe an MBA, and this isn’t their first business plan rodeo.
These detailed plans can be great. But they can also be totally overwhelming to a lot of lawyers starting law practices and lugging to do lists that cover page after page of yellow legal pads. When rent is due and you need malpractice insurance and you have to file with the Secretary of State and 25 of your clients want to follow you to the new firm, a business plan sometimes seems like a time-consuming luxury that a start up law firm can’t afford.
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Skipping a business plan altogether is a missed opportunity for the start up law practice. Once things get really rolling, the opportunities to look at the big picture of your law firm and its place in the market will come around less and less frequently.
Lawyers starting new law firms can get most of the value of doing a long, exhaustive MBA-approved business plan from spending an hour or two on a short form, bare bones business plan. These plans – and one page business plans are readily available all over the web – cause the start up lawyer to run through the most critical big picture questions without getting bogged down in details that are not mission critical on day 1.
In the next post, I’ll gather some links to one page business plans from around the web that may serve as useful jumping off points and talk about applying these forms specifically to starting a law firm.